The price for Russian-Belarusian relations has dropped to a two-year low, with relations dropping to two-and-a-half year lows after President Vladimir Putin met with Prime Minister Lukashenko of Belarus, and suffered a humiliating break from the Soviet Union. And on Thursday, Belarus retaliated with new travel bans and asset freezes against Russia, that had increased tensions between the two world powers in the aftermath of the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in London in March. (It was Russia that pulled out of a G20 summit in Salzburg, Austria, just weeks before that summit.) But even as relations have dropped further, Lukashenko told Putin Thursday that his country’s military is staying on standby in case of a need.
Russia has maintained it had no plans to send the National Guard in anyway, a Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman told EurasiaNet.org, although, of course, it was possible that it would soon. He said that the country is also gathering information to determine if the Russian coast guard boat and two cargo ships ferrying missiles into Belarus were subject to a possible crew order. Russia’s Kamov-50 carrier was carrying missiles for what it believed was a clandestine operation.
Lukashenko’s tough trade-offs have frustrated the Kremlin, and the issue of the National Guard is no different: Belarus agreed to stop enforcing the rule of emergency law and lower the number of youth conscription age exemptions, which Putin used as a weapon against Belarus in the last year’s Ukraine crisis. Until July, Lukashenko had been eager to relax the rules, complaining that a law he championed had been onerous. There were no such easing measures implemented until the May 2014 annexation of Crimea, and only then was the National Guard deployed to protect a UN oil export route that was particularly important to Russia.That de facto withdrawal by Lukashenko is backfiring on the Kremlin, according to Nikolai Petrov, a former presidential adviser who was then at the defense ministry. “When the plan of The National Guard is realized, Lukashenko is upset.” he told EurasiaNet.org. “[But] so is all Belarus’ large domestic enemies who [can now] launch a new provocation: their own domestic opponents who have long supported Lukashenko.”
It is plausible that Lukashenko’s case could lead to renewed tensions in Moscow, but the Kurmanbek Davydov state news agency on Thursday reported that the Russian president “expresses dissatisfaction with the way the Belarusian resistance is functioning,” hinting that could mean a willingness to use “any means necessary” for talks about the atmosphere of bilateral relations.